By Paula Brown
Secretary, Titan Fuel
CHATHAM -- What began as a ministry of Chatham UMC and a commitment to put the church's faith into action as a Matthew 25 church, has grown into a community-wide effort aimed at keeping Chatham school children well-fed.
Titan Fuel continues in its seventh year, supported by church members as volunteers, board members, resource mentors, and through the generosity of the congregation’s donations. Supporters are well-aware of research demonstrating a direct correlation to poor classroom performance and hunger. Children are often unfocused, sluggish, and inattentive when hungry. Such a simple concept of keeping children well fed can make a big difference in a community.
Titan Fuel was founded in spring of 2015 by a dedicated group of women from the Chatham UMC who provided $500 in seed money from their United Methodist Women’s treasury.
Titan Fuel provides meals and snacks to students in the Ball-Chatham School District who have been identified by school personnel as at risk for food insecurity over the weekend when school is not in session. The leadership of the program was solidified and as planning began and we realized that in order to make an impact on hunger in our community we would need to seek additional support.
Rev. Ted Frost informed us of the possibility of grants available from the United Methodist Foundation for just this purpose. In July 2015, our application was submitted and approved for $15,000. One elementary school was targeted with about 20 children receiving assistance. With the grant secured and the partnership of the school district we branched out to three elementary buildings with approximately 50-60 children receiving weekly bags. Our growth took off very quickly and by the end of the school year with community support high, we expanded our support to the intermediate school and were preparing ourselves to meet the needs of nearly 150 children for the next school year. Within the next two years we added the middle school and high school as well. Titan Fuel became a 501(c)3 and established a Board of Directors.
At the current time we average approximately 240 students per week in pre-k through high school. Our numbers have steadily increased over the past four years. As the number of families experiencing economic stress continues to grow, we hope to be ready to assist as many children as possible. Our school officials have determined approximately 900 students meet their criteria for assistance.
The cost of the program is approximately $3 to $4 per bag per child each week during a 40-week school year. Titan Fuel provides the backpack food bags at no cost to the students who participate in the program. Titan Fuel also provides additional snacks, cereals, juices, and sports drinks to counselors, nurses, and coaches who work directly with at-risk students. Our current budget is approximately $38,000 per year. All funds generated by Titan Fuel go directly into food purchases, building rent, and minor costs to maintain the program. During the 2019-20 school year more than 6,000 bags were distributed.
The organization’s manpower is strictly volunteer. Pre-Covid our volunteers included local residents, service organizations, retired teachers, current school personnel, business owners, religious groups, and area professionals. On a pack night we generally hosted 40 volunteers. Our volunteers set up the pack lines, pack the 400 plus bags bimonthly, deliver the food bags, and monitor the program administratively. We have been extremely humbled by the sheer number of people who share their time and talents with Titan Fuel. Our volunteers log approximately 100 hours a month. The volunteers range in age from 5-year old packers with their parents to ladies over 90 who inspire us with what it means to remain active in their community through service.
Now that we are limited with Covid-19 social distancing protocols the volunteers are limited but still willing. Ten people or less pack more than 400 bags two times each month without the students missing a single week of delivery.
Not only are we extremely proud of the growth of our program, but we have also had the privilege of assisting several neighboring communities in establishing their own “Titan Fuel”. We have mentored five other school communities and three churches as they seek guidance in providing backpack foods to children. The summer of 2020 brought the cancellation of our main fundraiser the Shrimp Boil. Community members and civic groups have stepped up to provide grant money, lemonade stand proceeds, and help continue the stability we have established in the schools.
Titan Fuel provided food bags throughout the entire summer. We have been fortunate to be named Meijer Food Stores outreach program through their “Simply Give” initiative which donates money back to us in the form of gift cards. We also celebrated a renewal of grant monies received from the Methodist Foundation in 2019.
We were blessed to have the support of a very passionate administrator in Tammi Kuhn who supported her students and families in a fierce way. Sadly, Tammi passed away at the end of November 2020, but due to the generosity of her family memorials in her honor were directed to Titan Fuel. The Board of Directors voted to establish seed money along with the memorial donations to create an emergency grant program for families within the Ball-Chatham School District called the Tammi Kuhn Fierce Family Fund. The grant is for $200 and provides food gift cards to Meijer, and local restaurants. Families are identified for assistance by staff members within the schools.
To learn more about Titan Fuel, visit: https://www.titanfuelbcsd.org